Was It From Memory?

When analyzing a record or source, do you thoughtfully consider how much information in that source comes from someone’s memory and was probably included in the record without question? The record may not give the name of the informant, but it’s probable that quite a bit of the detail it provides were simply obtained from what someone remembered.

SS Is Not Always Steamship

Legal documents frequently contain the abbreviation “ss” after the court location. There is a reason the abbreviation is used in that part of the document. The letters are said to be a contraction for scilicet which is frequently translated as “in particular” or “to wit” and is usually used to state the venue of the court. ss

Get Outside Your Comfort Zone

You may be better able to answer your genealogical questions and improve your research skills by getting outside of your “genealogical comfort zone.” This can be done by:

  • Using a source you have never used before–or have refused to use.
  • Learning about a new source.
  • Helping someone research a family in an area different from yours.
  • Researching one of your ancestral neighbors–just to work on a different family and perhaps gain insight into your own family.

It can be easy to get stuck in a rut if we only use the same sources and our family is pretty homogeneous. Sometimes it helps to broaden our perspective.


Charting Your Search Options

Typing names in search boxes willy-nilly works if you find people relatively quickly. When you don’t, it’s time to stop.organize-searches

Think about what you know about the person, how his name could be spelled, how he could have answered the questions, etc.

Make a chart of all the ways that you could search for that person in whatever database it is. Don’t rely on your memory. You will forget.

The chart will keep you organized and if you can’t find the person, it will make it easier to trouble shoot.


For more about organizing your online research, check out my webinar on this very topic.

Extend Your Grantor and Grantee Index Searches

Grantor and grantee indexes to land records typically only include the name of the first grantor in and the first grantee. Deeds involving inheritances, estate disputes, and partnerships may list multiple grantors or grantees. Searching for all members of your ancestor’s extended family (relatives by blood, relatives by marriage, etc.) may locate references not found if you only look for that “one person of interest.”

And if your ancestors were farmers and you’ve never looked for a deed…you could be missing out.grantor

Spellings Clue to “Sayings?”

Is the “alternate” spelling of your ancestor’s name a clue to how it was pronounced? Sometimes wrong spellings are simply wrong. Other times an incorrect spelling can be a clue to how the name was pronounced by your ancestor.

The flip side of this is that if you know how your ancestor likely said his name, you can think of additional alternate spellings.

There may be a reason DeMoss was spelled Demoise.

Or was it Demorse?

Either are clues.john-demoss-names

Approximate Sources


Sometimes it is necessary to enter in an approximate year of an event for an ancestor.

Always include in your notes your reason for that approximate year. If there is a source which you used to make the approximation, that should be indicated. Frequently a source will suggest an approximate year for some other event.

Don’t just enter in an approximate year or a guess without indicating how you got it.

And if you don’t have any reason at all for the approximate year of the event, reconsider entering it in your database in the first place.


Genealogy Tip of the Day is proudly sponsored by GenealogyBank. Check out their March offer for our readers.

Ordering the Biography

If you are fortunate enough to find a biography of an ancestor in an old county history or other published reference, consider making a chronology of just the information contained in the biography. This can a good way to notice gaps, inconsistencies, and other potential errors that can hinder your research.
It is often a good way to organize the information in the biography as many do not list events in strict chronological order.

Photograph the Spine

bookforbarbara-115x300 (1)Citations are always important in genealogical research, but they can be problematic with ledgers and bound courthouse materials. Courthouse record books are usually not considered “published” and titles can sometimes be difficult to obtain after one has left. One good way to get that “title” is to take a picture of the spine or the cover of the book as that’s often where the title is written.

If I’m making copies from several books, I always take a picture of the spine and cover first, then make copies of specific pages. That way the time stamp on the images helps me know what came from what.

But ask before taking pictures from record books as some courthouses do not allow it.